For two decades, Telangana's Veer Shetty Biradar -- the founder of SS Bhavani Foods -- has been making millets like sorghum, bajra, foxtail millet and finger millet accessible to the masses.
From working various odd jobs, which included driving a truck, to today running a company with an annual turnover upwards of Rs 1 crore — Veer Shetty Biradar has a very inspiring story.
Often referred to as the Millet Man of Telangana, Veer says, “I am the eldest of three sons and come from a family of farmers. We were not very financially sound and that was one of the reasons I had to quit studying after I completed Class 9.” He hails from Gangapur village, Jharasangam mandal in Sangareddy district.
Looking back at an incident that shaped his life, the 50-year-old says, “In 2006 I was travelling to Beed in Maharashtra. All through my journey, there was not one place where I could find either a decent meal or even something small to eat. That was the first time I experienced hunger and starvation.” What struck him the most was how people in that district were used to that life.
Hunger and starvation were common in the district.
“I could not forget that feeling. Even after I came back to Telangana I kept thinking of how I could help the people in Beed. I wanted to produce food for the future generations after coming back from Maharashtra,” says Veer.
So, he started by growing sorghum and millets. “The fact that both these crops required less water and could grow in adverse weather conditions was a huge plus. Also, the nutritional value of these crops is very high.”
Since Veer came from a family of farmers, he had a basic understanding of growing food. He says, “My training as an assistant to Dr C H Ravindra Reddy, who was the principal scientist in the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT), helped me immensely.”
It was here that Veer began to get a deeper insight into farming. While working, Veer also attended classes via distance learning at Telangana’s Dr B R Ambedkar Open University to complete his graduation. He continued to work with Dr Reddy till 2016 while steadily growing millets on his farmland.
Making Nutritious Food Accessible
In his 13 acres of dry land and 5 acres of irrigated land, Veer grows sugarcane, chickpea, red gram, jowar, bajra, foxtail millet and finger millet. In 2009, Veer started a value-added centre for millets in Chandanagar, Hyderabad, under the name of S S Bhavani Foods Pvt Ltd. Within seven years, his company developed 60 value-added millet products from sorghum, bajra, foxtail millet and finger millet.
On the nutritional value of millet, he says, “Millets are the superfoods for the future generation. Millet is also at low risk of pest attack and can be grown under any weather condition.” With Rs 25,000 Veer opened his first shop. It wasn’t an easy beginning since people did not yet know the benefits of millets.
He says, “Since people had no idea of the benefits of millet, I was often ridiculed and made fun of. They even said that I was wasting the money I had by doing all this. However, in just a few years, things changed. People started buying the products and seeing for themselves the benefit it brought to them. Now people line up to buy the immune-boosting millet-based products.”
By 2016, SS Bhavani Foods had added 60 value-added millet products made from sorghum, bajra, foxtail millet, and finger millet. “Around the same time, we also started an industrial-scale kitchen and a small restaurant to serve food made of millets. His idea was to educate people about millets and also serve them. Within a few months of operations, we were serving over 3,000 rotis each day and were also exporting over 2,000 rotis to Australia.”
“These rotis are frozen and have a shelf-life of up to six months.”
Surekha Masagari (40) who has been associated with Veer’s organisation for over two decades now, says, “Today I am the President of the Self-Help Group based in Telangana with 12 other members. I joined as a member and have steadily grown.” While the work at the SHG is voluntary and does not pay, Surekha says that if one needs a loan, then the interest rate for repayment is as low as one per cent.
Veer also set up the Swayam Shakthi Agri Foundation (NGO) in Hyderabad in 2016. He did this to help the farmers augment their income and also have easy access to seeds. He says, “To purchase a kilogram of seed, a farmer usually has to travel to the nearest town. Even after travelling the distance and paying the price being quoted, there is no guarantee of the quality of the seeds.” However, through the NGO, Veer ensured that good quality seeds are supplied to the farmers at their doorstep. They even advise them on what crop to plant depending on the season.
The NGO covers 1,000 farmers from eight villages in Sangareddy district.
For his work in the field, Veer has been the recipient of several awards and recognitions over the years. This includes the ‘Best Farmer Award’ from M S Swaminathan Research Foundation (MSSRF), the ‘Dr M V Rao Memorial Award’ from Professor Jayashankar, the Telangana State Agricultural University (PJTSAU) in 2017 and the ‘Best Millet Misharayya Award’ from Indian Institute of Millet Research (IIMR) Hyderabad in 2017.
Asked about his title ‘Millet Man of Telangana’, he says, “This is a title that the people I have been working with over the last two decades have bestowed on me. It is my most cherished recognition till date.”
(Edited by Yoshita Rao)